When I previewed Dry Drowning back in July, I argued that although it was described as a visual novel on its Steam page, there were “gamey” elements to ensure it would meet some arbitrary definition of what a game is from some quarters of the internet.
Having worked my way through the game since its release at the beginning of August, I’d argue that regardless of how you define Dry Drowning, you should take the time to check it out. There’s even a demo where your save files are fully compatible with the full version of the game, so there really isn’t any reason not to pay this at the least a passing glance.
Coming from Italian developers Studio V, Dry Drowning is a murder-mystery that touches on some deeper themes. Politics is intertwined with racism and immigration, the surveillance state and AI. During your investigation, it will make you pause and ask yourself how far you must go to “do the right thing”, and what that right thing might actually be.
It’s also a game where I found myself banging my head against the table at the attitude of the protagonist, the private detective Mordred Foley. There are numerous decision points in the game, which will ultimately lead to three completely different endings. Despite making decisions to put Mordred on the path to becoming a better person, I felt a disconnect between my choices, his comments during some conversations and his inner-thoughts revealed during cut-scenes.
At times this left me feeling like he was a dark tormented soul that would have no hope of redemption, but the ending I achieved was positive enough to lighten the mood of the story from the perpetual darkness it could have become. I have no doubt that some players will lean into Mordred’s worst tendencies which will lead the city of Nova Polemos into a more hate filled place to live.
While Mordred is a difficult character to love, the supporting cast of characters offer some hope. His partner, Hera has been through hell in a previous case, one that you will experience through well-crafted flashbacks, but hasn’t let her experiences send her down the same path as Mordred. She is the good angel sat on your shoulder and provides some much-needed perspective as you journey through the story. Detective Freya has a testy relationship with Mordred and has a story that I would love to have learned more of. If there is a follow on to Dry Drowning, I would hope that Freya takes the lead role.
There are many decision points during the story, some of which through my playthrough felt like they were left dangling without any clear resolution, while others had a massive impact on different characters, and even the Nova Polemos as a whole. Aside from these decisions, Dry Drowning follows an easy rhythm to follow.
You investigate the murder scenes, ask suspects questions until you trap them in a lie when a grotesque mask hides their face. Once they have begun to lie, you use the evidence you have gathered and piece together the events to break their mask and reveal the truth. Dry Drowning makes a big thing at first about only having three lives during these sequences, and if you provide the wrong evidence three times the game will be over.
Rather than being over and a unique ending playing, you simply get to repeat the interrogation. It’s fine but can become a chore to repeat a lot of the dialogue to get to the interrogation again. It shows that paying attention to the story and character motivations is key, but I wonder whether sometimes the translation from Italian to English is lacking in some refinement which can obscure some key parts of a case. Then again, it might be that I’m not the best detective out there!
Aside from these interrogation scenes, there are several small puzzles that you must complete to progress the case. None are too challenging, but a few more would have been welcomed to add a bit more variety to the constant dialogue.
It’s not perfect, and some people won’t give Dry Drowning the time of day, purely because it has “visual novel” in the product description. I think this is a game well worth taking a look at, and I would definitely be interested in seeing what Studio V can do to refine and improve on the formula they have come up with here if they were to expand on the world of Nova Polemos.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Available/ Reviewed – PC
Review based on review code supplied by PR. For more on our scoring policy, please read this post.